Intensity is something we talk a lot about when it comes to CrossFit workouts. You may hear a coach say to you mid-workout, “pick up the intensity.” Or perhaps you finish a workout and say, “man, that was intense!” It makes sense that the word intensity would come up during a CrossFit class since CrossFit is defined as: constantly varied, functional movements, performed at high intensity. However, if you only focus on intensity when coming to a CrossFit class you could be missing another important aspect in increasing your overall fitness: practice. To understand how to focus on practice during class or how to implement it yourself, we need to understand the difference between intensity and practice.
Intensity is not how much you grunt or sweat during a workout, and it’s not how high your heart rate gets during a workout. Intensity is work divided by time, also known as power. The more work you are able to complete in less time, or the higher your power output, the more intensity you have. Think moving large loads, long distances, quickly. This is a major reason why we record our workout results. We want to see if your power/intensity output is increasing. This can be seen by getting a faster Fran time or more rounds and reps in a workout like Cindy.
In the CrossFit L1 Training Guide, practice is defined as “an activity that improves performance through changes in the nervous system.” With proper practice you will have changes primarily in coordination, agility, balance and accuracy. Practice is not coming to the gym and writing up additional metcons to complete. Practice is low intensity efforts performed at light loads and focusing on one task. A good example of practice is the skill development section of a CrossFit class. When we do slow overhead squats with a PVC pipe, this is a time to focus on positioning and balance. Then, when we move to a barbell or heavier loads, your nervous system knows how to respond with proper movement.
How to Implement
When it comes to intensity, keep going hard at 3..2..1..go, and remember to measure your results after a workout and be aware of where your intensity is at. This can help you understand how to approach other workouts of the same kind, or it can point out a weakness. For practice, really focus in on your movement patterns during skill work in class. Be aware of how your body is moving and notice different muscles working. Practice is not a time to focus on intensity. If you want to implement practice during open gyms, pick something you need work on and perform reps at very low weight with plenty of rest between efforts. An example would be sitting on a box and working on wrapping your feet around a rope. When that becomes easy, close your eyes and keep doing it. Practice is not always the “sexy” side of CrossFit, but it pays huge dividends.